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Mobiles, Media, and the Agency of Indian Youth


Technologies have been and are being designed to address varied human needs. Of these, the need for physical and economic well-being is typically considered to trump the need for culture, leisure, fun, and entertainment. Research initiatives in the field of Information and Communication Technology and Development (ICTD) have been in motion to address agricultural, educational, and health care needs, among others. The need for entertainment is central even in the lives of the `have-less', my dissertation affirms. Affordable new media technologies play a critical role towards the procurement of entertainment content and the resulting production of culture. Individuals quickly learn to navigate their way around technology, also paving the way for development-friendly outcomes. It is this phenomenon that my dissertation analyzes, as it studies individual agency in the intertwining of culture (society) and new media (technology) within the larger discourse of development.

I use ethnographic methods to investigate the leisure-driven appropriation of the mobile phone by youth from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds in rural, small-town, and urban India. I first analyze the influx of new media and its resulting impact on folk music practices in rural Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Shifting focus to the motivations that drive youth towards mobile consumption of folk and popular media, I examine the unique material affordances of new media technologies and their influence on emerging practices. I use the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) lens to draw particular attention to the notion of agency, both human and material, as I investigate the pirate media actor-network responsible for the widespread dissemination of digital media and technical skills. I then focus on the agency of urban Indian youth that leads them to build further on these skills as they negotiate various linguistic, social, and technological hurdles for engagement with social media towards a new, improved identity for themselves.

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